Humans and animals lacking orexin neurons exhibit daytime sleepiness, sleep attacks, and state instability. While the circuit basis by which orexin neurons contribute to consolidated wakefulness remains unclear, existing models posit that orexin neurons provide their wake-stabilizing influence by exerting excitatory tone on other brain arousal nodes. Here we show using in vivo optogenetics, in vitro optogenetic-based circuit mapping, and single-cell transcriptomics that orexin neurons also contribute to arousal maintenance through indirect inhibition of sleep-promoting neurons of the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus. Activation of this subcortical circuit rapidly drives wakefulness from sleep by differentially modulating the activity of ventrolateral preoptic neurons. We further identify and characterize a feedforward circuit through which orexin (and co-released glutamate) acts to indirectly target and inhibit sleep-promoting ventrolateral preoptic neurons to produce arousal. This revealed circuitry provides an alternate framework for understanding how orexin neurons contribute to the maintenance of consolidated wakefulness and stabilize behavioral state.
© 2022. The Author(s).